“For me, the national team is over.”
“It’s been four finals, I tried.”
“I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”
Lionel Messi’s eyes wailed as he tried to express the irrevocable reality that just unfolded in front of the world. After killing himself day in and day out to resound his existence to the Argentines, he’d never thought he’d see this- Lionel Messi was a loser now.
‘A distraught Messi might lose his magic and his love for football’ was the alarming thought that went all over, although The Flea was to wear the Blaugrana shirt for the days to come. Amidst the remarks like premature and hasty circulating, only the ones following Leo closely understood what he was going through and stood by his decision with the support belying their wish of seeing their little magician kick the ball more often. Two months later, football won. Lionel Messi renounced his retirement, football found joy again.
“I’m aware of how old I am. And I enjoy these moments so much because I know that retirement is approaching”
Three years later, receiving his 6th Balon d’Or, La Pulga hinted at his retirement again and it’s quite plausible given his age.
Everything has its time and everything ends. This fairytale story of our little Argentine will too, it’s just a matter of how long. And it’s irrefutable that this will create an evidently visible void in the footballing arena. The only difference is, we’ll all cry and football won’t find an ambassador like Messi for quite long if not, ever.
The start of the decade, however, was not how everyone expected it to go for Leo. Leo had a contrasting start to the decade, coming off an incredible and unprecedented sextuple and a thoroughly justified Ballon D’or. Highly tipped to win the most prestigious award in the football – The World Cup, Lionel Messi carried the hopes of Argentina to the first-ever World Cup in African territory.
A humiliating 4-0 quarterfinal loss at the hands of bitter rival Germany meant humiliation for Argentina and inevitably, heavy criticism for Leo. At times, it appeared as if his near-perfect entry to the footballing world would be reduced to a moment of ridicule. ‘Next Maradona? NOT!’ the newspaper headlines read, claiming Messi was just another player who’d fall against the gigantic boots of his countrymen Diego Maradona and Pele-the great Brazilian.
Critics aside, phenomenal performance for Barcelona won Leo his second Ballon D’or later that year. Anyone other than Messi would consider a more than a supernatural season for Barcelona and a Ballon d’Or winning year a good year. But it was Leo, the good boy from Rosario. Humble as always, he accepted the World cup humiliation and thanked his Barcelona teammates Xavi-Iniesta for their support throughout his campaign. Like a father, Pep Guardiola seemed proud of what his kid had done, as he announced it was going to be Leo’s decade in a way passive, yet persuasive manner. Leo was a happy boy, and so was football.
2011 saw Pep’s Barca become the best club team to ever grace the football pitch with Messi at the focal point. Pep’s team was compared with the likes of Sacchi’s Milan and Alex Ferguson’s ‘99 United Squad with the majority of football community taking Blaugrana’s stand. Messi nailed Real Madrid in the semis, as Barca rocketed past their rivals convincingly. The near-supernatural goal made Peter Drury go “The best player in the world bar none.” Messi, however, wasn’t done yet.
The trio of Messi, Iniesta, and Xavi was too hot to handle for every other team, as they racked up another Liga and the Champions League with Messi adding yet another Balon d’Or to his cabinet. From just a bunch of boys from Barcelona’s old farmhouse, Pep’s team became the ‘victor ludorum’ of world football.
Leo Messi’s acceleration, both on and off the pitch, didn’t stop with all the affluence. Leo, thought to have peaked at the CL winning campaign, proved everyone wrong with 91 goals in 69 appearances in 2012 to bag his fourth consecutive Ballon D’or. Pep Guardiola, considered by Messi to be the best coach to ever have played for, parted ways with Barcelona after the 2011/2012 season. Messi didn’t show up for Guardiola’s last conference, desolated about his footballing father’s departure.
At 24 years of age, Leo stood tall with 4 Ballon D’ors, countless collective and individual trophies and there were no signs of him stopping. The ‘Greatest of All Time’ status – thought to have its esteem linked with Pele and Maradona – was all with the boy that once had to rely on injections to grow.
What followed for Messi wasn’t easy, neither it was for Barcelona. Tito Vilanova, Pep Guardiola’s assistant and his successor after his reign at the Camp Nou led Barcelona to a healthy number of league points initially. Vilanova resigned as Barcelona manager as he relapsed from his condition in July 2013. Tito, dear to Messi, breathed his last on 25th April 2014, after leading the team from the bed on several occasions. Barca and Messi, on the other side of the hospital walls, were struggling to keep up with emotions. The disastrous reign under Tata Martino saw injured Messi lose Champions League and Liga in quick successions. Too fast to be realized and too painful to cope up with.
Tito Vilanova’s demise, Atletico Madrid’s last game Liga triumph and a so-so individual year. The boy from Santa Fe, Rosario traveled to Rio, just 2000 kilometers away from his home, not to win, but to be forgiven. The apology was not for a bad year in Messi’s books, but for his own existence as an Argentine. A drought ending goal against Bosnia and Herzegovina, a late Messi-inspired win against Iran, successive triumphs against Switzerland, Belgium and mighty Dutch side saw Messi and Company get into the World Cup finals, at Belo Horizonte, against the mighty Germans who hurled Messi out of the World Cup four years back in South Africa. It was time for Leo to conquer Christ The Redeemer and paint Rio’s bystander all sky-blue and white, with DIOS written all over Messi’s shirt.
Messi’s dream, shared by millions around the globe, shattered in front of his own eyes. The men in white celebrated their part of happiness as Leo once again lost, lost to his own greatness. The search for everything continued.
7th of May, 2015. Camp Nou.
Barca 1-0 Bayern Munich. 79’
‘Here he’s again, here he’s again, that’s astonishing! Absolutely world-class!’
Messi broke everything. Jerome Boateng, Manuel Neuer, Bayern Munich and the Internet. Jerome Boateng’s confidence after successfully nullifying Messi in the World Cup final a year ago suffered a major set back. Lionel Messi, Camp Nou’s Dios sent the Germans to ruins as Boateng couldn’t comprehend what Messi was conjuring and as a result, comically floored in front of a man’s greatness. Messi then casually lobbed Manuel Neuer, The Manuel Neuer, as if he was some ordinary keeper from Segunda division with his weaker foot. The AUDACITY! Messi set another record, this time off the pitch, as he was mentioned 2 million times in 2 minutes on Twitter. Several players, ex-players, managers joined the bandwagon and to admire magic they got to witness.
30th of May, 2015. Camp Nou.
Barca 0-0 Athletic Club. 19’
‘Look at this Kevin, it’s a brilliant run from Messi. Can he go all the wayyyyyyyyyyyy…..’
Scientifically close to impossible. Aesthetically pleasing. One man, Leo Messi.
4 defenders beaten, 31.38 Km/h reached in just 2.73 seconds, 3 short touches to beat 3 men in 1.2 seconds, 60 yards covered in 11.4 seconds, a shot at the near post with a velocity of 77.24 Km/hr.
Leo’s opening goal in the Copa Del Rey final did not just break the deadlock, but also the array of humanly-possible things. As a fan in Camp Nou gestured at the camera that he did not believe what he just saw, the world responded in a similar fashion – Lionel Messi: The Cheat Code of Football.
What followed the World Cup was more than just an answer to critics. Lionel Messi guided Luis Enrique’s Barcelona to a treble, making Barca the only team in the world to achieve the feat twice. Messi, together with Suarez and Neymar, let the ball on his feet do the talking as usual.
The quest for Argentine glory, however, fell again as Argentina fell down against Chile in the final of Copa America 2015. Leo Messi was the center of attraction yet again, as the GOAT was too close to the trophy, yet too far from the triumph.
The 2015/16 season saw Barcelona win yet another Liga as MSN trio continued to dominate the hurdles they faced. Barca were stopped by Atletico Madrid in the European campaign as Barca ended up with a domestic double and the Club World Cup trophy. Lionel Messi, now a father of two, took Xavi Hernandez’s role of playmaking, along with his scoring duties. What next? Messi continued to nail things up. Messi now enjoyed a number of assists and enjoyed the responsibility. As he often says, he likes to dictate the ball.
The Copa America Centenario Edition saw Lionel Messi inspired Argentina reach the finals to face the defending Champions Chile. Just as the world started to believe it was GOAT’s turn to kill the debate, it was destiny that wasn’t Leo’s ally. Messi and Company lost to Chile yet again, inviting a day that every football fan feared – Lionel Messi’s international retirement. What followed was even worse: Leo Messi was sentenced to 21 months of prison, for a deed he never committed. Messi was accused of a Tax-fraud case that he allegedly committed when he was playing football at 19. The roller coaster continued, and it seemed as if the pace was too much for Leo to handle.
11th of October, 2017.
Ecuador 1-0 Argentina.
The streets of Buenos Aires are empty. Everyone’s tensed, everyone’s anxious. Argentina might not make it to the World Cup finals. If this stands, Argentina are going home.
‘Who else than Leo Messi to pull them right back in !’
Ecuador 1-1 Argentina.
‘This is what the great, great players do. They choose their moment and they deliver.’
Ecuador 1-2 Argentina
‘He is unbelievable! Lionel Messi saves Argentina!’
Ecuador 1-3 Argentina
Just a turn of events that the hourglass witnessed from a magisterial creature named Leo Messi.
The streets of Buenos Aires lit up again. Lionel Messi takes Argentina to World Cup finals. Was he forgiven yet? The world waited for the Russian soil to answer every bit of it.
The 2017/18 crumbled within days for Barcelona as the Romans knocked Ernesto Valverde’s men out of the European tie after pulling off an astonishing comeback. Lionel Messi dominated every individual record possible that marked his playmaking as well as goal scoring prowess. At the end of the season, Barcelona missed out in an unbeaten league run. Lionel Messi remained helpless as always.
The end of season saw Andres Iniesta join Vissel Kobe, leaving behind the legacy of Xavi-Iniesta and Messi. Leo was quiet as always, but his eyes hinted he had every bit of sadness knitted within.
‘Curtain falls on Argentina. Too much to take for some of those thousands and thousands and thousands of miles away from home.’
Argentina 0-3 Croatia
As Ivan Rakitic netted the third dodging the last defender to an open post, the world thought the Mundial was over for Messi, who’d done every bit he could to make his boyhood dream of making things happen for the Albicelestes. Perhaps, Leo finally realized he was not a man born to remain happy.
Argentina played against Nigeria on 26th of June 2018, in hopes of making it through to the next round as the runner ups. Messi, who controlled a ricochet from Banega with his thigh, made Argentina believe again as Argentina took an early lead to start things off. Argentina won the fixture 2-1, to make it past the group stages as Diego Maradona applauded Messi and Co. with the greatest of appreciation that he had for his successors. But the question remained: Was Leo forgiven yet?
No. Argentina crashed out of the Round of 16s as Jorge Sampaoli’s side lost 4-3 to France who’d later go on to win the World Cup. Lionel Messi finished the world cup with a single goal that delayed what was to come: yet another disappointment for Argentina’s ‘Golden Generation’.
After a disappointing World Cup campaign, Messi returned to Barcelona with hopes of repeating the post-World Cup performance that he delivered after the 2014 Brazil World Cup. He did repeat the feat individually, but not as he wanted to end as a captain. Barcelona were again knocked out of Europe after Liverpool pulled off an emphatic comeback at Anfield as Messi’s extraterrestrial performance at the Camp Nou- that included a freekick- went in vain. Barcelona ended up with the League title, losing the Copa Del Rey to Valencia and Leo looking helpless as always. The victim of his own greatness, as they call him.
As we near the end of the decade, watching Messi play has simply been nothing but unmatched joy. His goal in the UCL against Real Madrid going all the way through players as if they were cones, him nutmegging James Milner mercilessly, his miraculous goal against Athletic in the Copa final, his 35-yards freekick against Liverpool last season. How many times has this guy dominated the biggest platform! Oh! And we aren’t even talking about the regular stuff he does in La Liga. Who can forget him going through crowd of Espanyol players with no fuss? Or that goal against Real Betis? Sevilla? We can go on and on forever. The decade has seen a human turn into an emotion and it’s quite impossible for anyone to do it again.
As Messi climbed up to the Ballon D’Or podium and hinted his time was limited, we all can now prepare,not for yet another decade of extravagant display of godly powers, but for the greatest of all time to say goodbye, a goodbye that football would kill itself to avoid.
Lionel Messi in the last decade: (Named as the sportsman of the decade by The Telegraph)
– 579 goals
– 230 assists
– 89.6 minutes per goal
– 64.1 minutes per assist
– 5 Ballon d’Or’s
– 6 FIFA POTY
– 6 European Golden Shoe
– 4 IFFHS Best Playmaker
– 259 MOTM